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Elements of Success in Tidal Energy Development

Issue 6 and Volume 117.

John M. Ferland   By John M. Ferland, Ocean Renewable Power

In 2012 Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) began operating the first federally licensed, commercial, grid-connected tidal energy project. Situated on the U.S. side of the Bay of Fundy, the Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project is the only ocean energy project, except for one involving a dam, that delivers power to a utility grid in the Americas. The Project benefits from having the first long-term power purchase agreement for tidal energy issued in the U.S., allowing us to expand to up to 5 MW of production.

As a first mover in an emerging industry, ORPC has had to address complexities related to technology development, resource assessment, project siting, marine construction, regulatory requirements, environmental monitoring and public policy. Key to project success has been the positive relationships ORPC has developed with host communities and regulators. This facet of project development is core to our company.

Through early, open and frequent communications, ORPC developed relationships and built trust with the host communities of Eastport and Lubec, Maine. Their economies and ways of life have historically been defined by the success of their marine industries. The local workforce is highly skilled in marine operations and has provided us with guidance and expertise needed to work in local waters. Strong relationships have been established with the Eastport Port Authority, local harbor pilots, and most importantly, commercial fishermen, who helped ORPC site the Cobscook Bay Project, resulting in a location that met our requirements while minimizing disturbance to fishing activities.

ORPC has also benefitted from the availability of local divers and commercial vessel operators and crews for support on environmental studies and Project construction, operations and maintenance. The Eastport Port Authority was key in the Project’s cable laying operations and has provided a range of services throughout ORPC’s seven years working in the area.

When ORPC initiated a marine mammal observation program to meet our licensing requirements, professional fishermen, a local kayak guide, a whale watch operator, and others familiar with local waters responded. Following professional training as observers, they joined our operations team during the Project’s initial construction phase, and will continue to work with us as the project build-out continues.

Local support for ORPC has helped us create a strong economic footprint statewide. Since 2007 we have spent more than $21 million throughout Maine, supported more than 100 jobs statewide, and established a supply chain reaching 13 of the state’s 16 counties.

The promise of economic growth was a major reason why Maine implemented the Ocean Energy Act in 2010. The Act created regulatory reform for small-scale tidal energy projects and the opportunity for a long-term power purchase agreement through the Maine Public Utilities Commission. Additionally, Maine and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding pledging to align state and federal approaches to tidal energy regulation.

ORPC has forged productive relationships with state and federal regulatory agencies. We recently submitted the Project’s first annual environmental monitoring report to FERC. The agency requires licensees to develop adaptive management plans for evaluating environmental monitoring data and making science-based decisions to modify monitoring as necessary. The goal is to maintain levels of monitoring proportional to project risk through a collaborative effort with regulatory agencies and key advisors who comprise the adaptive management team. Results to date indicate no observed, adverse interaction of the TidGen® Power System with the marine environment. We appreciate the regulatory resource agency members of our adaptive management team for their guidance, and because of it, ORPC is at the forefront of innovative environmental monitoring efforts for tidal energy projects.

Many challenges remain for the tidal energy industry. Time will tell if our experience in Maine can be replicated in other jurisdictions. At a minimum, ORPC’s experience provides examples of the types of community, public policy and regulatory dynamics that are necessary for a tidal energy project to evolve successfully.

Author

John M. Ferland is Vice President of Project Development for Ocean Renewable Power Company, an international industry leading developer of technology and projects that generate clean, predictable power from ocean and river currents. He leads the company’s project development, environmental permitting and project licensing activities. John draws on over 30 years of experience in commercialization strategy for renewable energy companies, port emergency response operations, coastal resources management, and public policy.

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